Traveler: Danielle Gervalis
When: December 2017
If you are looking for a place that can provide great food, beaches and city life than San Diego checks all those boxes. An impressively clean and sprawling city, there is a lot of ground to cover to get to all of the cool things to see, do and eat. I hope our experiences exploring helps narrow down your own list!
I stayed in an Air BnB in the East Village neighborhood. This area has its own charm and is Gas Lamp adjacent. It’s about two blocks from Petco Park, so if you are planning to see a baseball game, this is definitely an area you will want to be in! It cost about $15 to get an Uber from the airport to here.
Things to Do:
La Jolla Cove and Tide Pools
This area is an absolute delight! About a $20 cab ride from downtown, the cliffs, beach and ocean make for a dramatic back drop as you explore. Best of all, there are tons of sea lions and seals playing in the water and napping on the rocks!
I was in love. If I could adopt them and take them all home, I would, but them seem pretty happy in their Pacific digs. You’ll find them in multiple areas sunbathing, barking or sleeping in adorable little piles. While they seem to be used to people, you should exercise caution and give them space. Also, while wandering around the adorable sea creatures, be careful of the puddles…. it’s not ocean water.
In addition to the wildlife, you can snorkel, swim, rest on the beach and explore the tide pools. The rocks jutting out in the ocean are like oil slicks. I fell on my tush twice, I saw other people eat it, and one kid actually got knocked in the water, who later declared that it was the best day of his life. So by all means, venture out and look for shells and tiny hermit crabs, but be careful and move slowly.
Finally, if you are looking for a perfect sunset then you have found your beach. People were lined up along the sea wall and cliff edges to capture the golden hour. Once you are done with the beautiful scenery, head back up the hill to downtown La Jolla for shopping and food. The main streets for shops are Prospect and Girard, which are lined with boutiques and recognizable staples.
This beautiful tourist area along the bay is full of shops and restaurants containing everything from surfer gear to Christmas decor! Traversing a small distance north you’ll find the massive navy ships parked in the harbor.
Additionally, there is a Bob Hope memorial and the famous “Embracing Peace” statue of a sailor making out with a surprised nurse commemorating the end of WWII.
This tourist area is shaded, has many benches and fountains to take a rest and enjoy a coffee while you gaze at the ocean. Getting here is also a breeze! If you are a runner, it’s about a mile jog on the lovely MLK promenade from Petco Park to get here. It’s also adjacent to the train tracks and convention center.
If you enter Balbao Park from Park Blvd it seems as though you are surrounded by a sea of parking lots, however once you get past that, whether by tram or on foot, you will be confronted with stunning gardens and architecture.
The park dates back to 1835 when over 1,400 acres were set aside for public recreational purposes. However, the present day feel of Balbao Park is primarily a result of the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal and the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition which was held to boost the local economy during the depression.
Be sure to check out the Visitor Center to grab a map and chat with the volunteers. The gardens (except the Japanese Garden), Botanical Garden and Tinkman Museum are all free. The remaining museums charge a fee to enter.
I toured the rose and desert garden and was stunned by their beauty. You literally can stop and smell a variety of roses, including yellow ones named Julia Child. I stopped at the Spanish Village, which hosts tons of artisans selling pottery, jewelry, art work, etc. It’s a great place to find unique souvenirs, gifts and fine art. I spent some time touring the 100-year-old Fig Tree, Botanical Garden and Panama 66 for a glass of wine and a rest in the sculpture garden.
I visited the Museum of Man and had a delightful time exploring their exhibits on evolution, the Mayans of Guatemala, Monsters of Folklore, Mummies and their special exhibit on canabolism. I was especially taken with their interactive demo on how your strength depletes during starvation. They have three “buckets of water” for you to pick up which demonstrates how difficult it is to lift the same amount of weight when suffering from malnutrition.
A lively and historic area of city filled with restaurants, bars and shops. In decades past, these 16 blocks were known as the red light district due to all of the gambling, saloons, and bordellos. Wyatt Earp, of O.K. Corral gunfight fame, owned four saloons in the area in late 1800s. Today, it’s a much tamer, eclectic area to grab a bite to eat or walk around admiring the history and architecture.
Places to Eat and Drink:
WhiskNLadle Bistro and Bar
Located in La Jolla on Wall St, they have a happy hour with a nice food and craft cocktail selection. I had the Fire Stone with Mezcal and the Apple Salad for under $20.
Sushi Deli 1
Located in Hillcrest, this place has a cult like following in the neighborhood. The decor is more on the divey side but the food and service are absolutely top-notch! The bartenders were very entertaining and provided lots of great recommendations for things to do in the city. They have a large variety of creative rolls to choose from which lean on the spicy side. I had the phenomenal Scallop Baked Roll with spicy mayo. They also have an extensive sake menu with happy hour two for one deals.
Jimmy Carter’s Mexican Cafe
Talk about a colorful explosion! This charming locale is a 15 minute walk from the Zoo/Bilbao Park area. The menu is full of Mexican specialities and tasty margaritas. I had the Poblano Rellenos with queso fresco and pork and they were to die for! The sauce had just the right amount of heat and flavor. The clientele are mostly local neighborhood folks so this gem is definitely worth going off the beaten path for!
The Lion’s Share
A dimly lit restaurant and bar with incredible animal themed artwork, this place has a cool cocktail menu and very tasty. I sampled a few of the bar’s specialties and the Chicken Fried Quail with mashed potatoes. I’m still dreaming about that meal. Everything was done to perfection. Additionally, it’s located near Seaport Village/Convention Center so it’s easy to get to if you are staying near those areas.
This huge industrial space hosts a pretty special brewery with a pirate theme! Mission Brewery was originally established in 1913 but went out of business during prohibition. It was brought back to life in 2007 and has continued to expand and win awards since that time. The tasting room is right in the middle of the brewing action and they host tours on the weekends. If you stop by, try the Coconut brown.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Also on Wall St in La Jolla, this offshoot of the main brewery in Pacific Beach serves a full menu of bar food, with four different types of macaroni and cheese! The beers are also creative and delicious. You can do a full flight of four beers for $7. I highly recommend the Peanut Butter Cup Porter, it’s light and delicious!
A large, hip coffee shop with communal and small tables to eat, drink and work. The breakfast burritos are huge. If you are looking for an artisan latte, this is your spot!
Coffee and Art
Like the name implies, this tiny locale features local artists and coffee. Bordering the Gaslamp District, it’s a friendly local café featuring lattes and breakfast items for folks on the go.
There are lots of great Italian restaurants on this strip. It would be impossible to eat at all of them, so I suggest trying small plates at a few different places! Enjoy your whirlwind tour of San Diego’s Little Italy!
Craft and Commerce
If you like exotic taxidermy, then you will love the decor of this restaurant. Located one block down from the main drag, it’s worth a stop in for a delicious craft cocktail and appetizer. I tried their baked oysters and was thrilled. The sauce and flavor of these little guys were phenomenal.
I had the best cannoli of my life at Sorrento. This place has beautiful murals of Italy on the wall, a great wine list and many Italian favorites to eat! It was a sweet ending to my time in San Diego.